Marine Corps reservist Ben Nordstrom looked to purchase a rifle to defend his new home after moving to California in May. The coronavirus shutdowns of some gun stores in the state proved a minor inconvenience at first, but while stores have reopened, Nordstrom is still without his firearm. State law mandates that weapons can only be legally sold to people with valid California photo IDs. The Marine cannot get one because of coronavirus restrictions in the state. In addition, thanks to a rare restriction on ammunition purchases, California also requires state ID and a background check to purchase ammunition, which means he can't buy ammo for the gun he already owns.
While temporary pandemic restrictions, such as store capacity limits, have inconvenienced gun buyers in many places, the shutdowns have been particularly harsh in states with stricter gun laws and more complicated buying processes. Several prospective gun buyers who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon said continued licensing-office closures and appointment slowdowns associated with the virus have extended their purchase process by months or made a legal purchase impossible.
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Nordstrom said those effects have placed law-abiding citizens in a bind.
"They don’t really have the ability to suspend rights do they?" Nordstrom asked. "But what am I supposed to do if there’s a breakdown like what we’ve seen and I don’t have a way to obtain the means to defend myself, my family, and our property? Am I supposed to circumvent the process and obtain something illegally? And then get punished once order is restored? Something is wrong with that scenario especially when citizens in other states are still legally able to acquire firearms and ammo."
Jose Pagliery, an investigative journalist who recently moved from New York to New Jersey, said his attempts to buy a gun for home defense have also been thwarted by the continued shutdown of the state's process for issuing drivers licenses. While gun stores in the state reopened at the end of March, Pagliery said New Jersey will not allow him to buy a gun without a valid photo ID issued by the state. And since he's still unable to attain one after more than a month of trying, he is effectively barred from buying guns in the state despite his clean record.
"This is a de facto ban on new residents legally acquiring firearms," Pagliery told the Free Beacon. "Now my concern is that they'll push it back until it's clear that COVID isn't going away, then they'll push it back indefinitely."
His repeated attempts to obtain a New Jersey license or provide alternative forms of ID have failed. When the state's motor vehicle commission announced it would reopen on June 29, Pagliery planned to show up at dawn. Then state officials pushed reopening to July 7.
"It bothers me that a person who is hell-bent on doing this the right way has no option. Especially when the whole point of these kinds of laws is to, reportedly, create a safer atmosphere and environment for the general public," he said. "When I was in Florida, there was no problem with me getting a firearm and now I'm going to say it was supposed to be safer and I definitely feel less safe."
Pagliery is not the only New Jersey resident who has run into roadblocks en route to legal gun ownership. Local teacher Dan Kuzma began the permitting process in December 2019 to purchase a gun. He was not able to take home his Remington 870 pump-action shotgun until June due to bureaucratic shutdowns and slowdowns of gun stores and police licensing offices.
"When you're dealing with a bureaucratic process that takes a long time it slows that down and it takes even longer. That's not how it should be," Kuzma told the Free Beacon. "I can see where people would at some point put their hands up like, ‘I'm not doing this.'"
The offices of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy (D.) and California governor Gavin Newsom (D) did not respond to requests for comment.
Robert, a 24-year-old software engineer in Massachusetts who asked not to be named for fear of backlash during the application process, said he is still suffering delays from the shutdown even as restrictions are lifted. State law requires in-person interviews with police in order to obtain a carry permit, but those operations were curtailed during the shutdown. He has been unable to get an appointment with the East Bridgewater Police Department even after the application office reopened on June 15. Local officials at one point warned Robert that they were not accepting new applicants, according to an email reviewed by the Free Beacon.
"Denying [License To Carry] applications has nothing to do with public health/safety and everything to do with denying rights," Robert said.
A spokesperson for the police department confirmed to the Free Beacon that new carry-permit applications had been put on hold due to coronavirus restrictions, and that the department is now processing applications again since restrictions have been eased. "We are a small department and each new applicant was notified that we would process applications as quickly as possible but there will be some back up," the spokesperson said.
Several of the men are now considering taking legal action to challenge these processes or otherwise accelerate their progress. Nordstrom, however, said he may take things a step further and reconsider his move to California.
"Why doesn't the government have plans in place to maintain continuity of something like this, especially in California where the requirements are so onerous?" Nordstrom asked. "I shouldn't be punished because of a situation out of my control."